Kinberly Novaes, right, and Renata Baldan. (Photo: Kinberly Novaes/Facebook)
MMA fighter Kinberly Novaes is making headlines — and it’s not because of her right hook. The 24-year-old recently discovered that she won a title while she was 12 weeks pregnant.
Novaes made the connection when she learned she is nearly six months pregnant during an ultrasound and blood test a doctor ordered after she struggled to lose weight for an upcoming fight.
“The doctor said I’m 24 weeks pregnant — almost six months — and my baby is healthy and strong,” Novaes recently told MMAFighting.com. “I was worried because I trained hard, fought, cut weight. I suffered a lot to make weight for my last fight, couldn’t dehydrate properly, and I was already training to fight again next week, but the doctor said everything is fine.”
Novaes said she’d been feeling sick for a while, with headaches, cramps, and fatigue, but didn’t get her symptoms checked out because she doesn’t like going to the doctor. After going on a stricter diet to cut weight, she gained 2.2 pounds in six days.
“I was desperate. I realized my belly was hard, so I thought I had some intestine issue,” she told MMAFighting.com. A doctor at the hospital ordered a blood test and, an hour later, informed her that she was pregnant.
“I cried a lot, ran out of the hospital, but I realized that was good news,” she added. “I thought I was sick, but I had a baby instead.”
Novaes is hardly the first athlete to compete while pregnant. Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings told “Today” she was “throwing [her] body around fearlessly” at the 2012 Olympics while she was five weeks pregnant, and Olympian Alysia Montaño ran an 800-meter race last year while 8 ½ months pregnant.
But was it safe for Novaes to fight for a title back in May while she was pregnant?
Maybe, but it’s definitely not recommended, says Melissa Goist, MD, an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Although likely safe at this gestational age, contact sports can be dangerous to the pregnant mother because of risk of direct injury,” she tells Yahoo Health. “After 12 weeks, the uterus grows up and out of the pelvis and is at much greater risk of direct injury and/or trauma.”
At 12 weeks, a pregnant woman’s uterus is about the size of a grapefruit, making it just visible on most women, she says. But every woman is different, and it’s possible Novaes wasn’t showing at the time. In fact, as recently as a month ago, Novaes had a flat stomach, per this photo she posted on Instagram:
(Photo: Kinberly Novaes/Instagram)
According to the American Pregnancy Association, exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage in a normal, low-risk pregnancy, and expectant mothers should be able to maintain “to some degree” the same exercise program they followed prior to becoming pregnant. (The association adds that pregnant women should never exercise to the point of exhaustion or breathlessness.)
But Goist stresses that it’s safe to exercise “intensely” throughout pregnancy, unless a woman has pregnancy complications that encourage bed or pelvic rest. “As long as a mother is feeling well, eating well, and gaining the appropriate amount of weight, then continuing a workout routine is recommended,” she says.
Goist is surprised that Novaes didn’t realize she was pregnant at nearly six months, but says she’s seen it happen in her practice before. “I suspect an elite athlete may have such an intense regimen that until the fetus is actually changing the body shape, usually around 20 weeks, this may go unnoticed.”
Novaes’s upcoming fight has been canceled, and she plans to return to MMA next year.
Read This Next: Why You’re Gaining Weight Even Though You Exercise